What is stealing
A person commits a stealing offence if they fraudulently take anything capable of being stolen, or fraudulently converts to the person’s own use or to the use of any other person anything capable of being stolen.
Although the definition might make stealing sound like a straightforward offence, it is in fact incredibly complex and there are a number of important issues that need to be examined whenever a person faces a stealing charge. For example:
Do the police know who owner the thing that was allegedly stolen? A person cannot be convicted of a stealing offence if the property did not belong to anyone in the first place.
Can the police prove that the accused person had an intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property? They must be able to prove that the accused person did not simply borrow the item with every intention of returning it.
Did the accused person steal the property or did they simply find it? A person cannot be convicted of a stealing offence if they find something and they do not know who the owner is and also that they believe, on reasonable grounds, that the owner cannot be discovered.
There is also a legal argument known as the “doctrine of recent possession”. If you are found in possession of property that has only recently been stolen, the police will allege that you either stole it yourself or that you received it knowing that it was stolen. They will make this argument on the basis that you came into possession of the property so soon after it was stolen and therefore not enough time would have passed for you to then obtain it lawfully (for example, by buying it from a Cash Converters without knowing that it was originally stolen).
As you can see, stealing offences are not as straightforward as they may seem and it is therefore extremely important that you seek expert advice from an experience criminal lawyer.
There are also ‘special cases’ which impact the maximum penalty that a person can receive.
It is an offence for a person to steal a testamentary instrument (also known as a will) from another person, regardless of whether that person is alive or dead.
It is an offence to steal 1 or more stock animals. If a person is fined for this offence, they will receive a separate fine for each individual animal that was stolen.
Stealing from the person – stealing goods in transit
A person cannot steal goods from the person of another or from particular vehicles or places. For example, it is a more serious stealing offence if a person uses a key to open a locked room or box in order to steal an object.
Stealing by persons in the public service
Public servants are specifically restricted from stealing any property that belongs to “Her Majesty” – eg, the Government.
Stealing by clerks and servants
It is a special case of stealing where an employee steals from his or her employer. In theory, this could even include situations where an employee takes a company pen home for their own personal use. People who are sentenced for stealing from their employer often have convictions recorded as the courts believe that future employers are entitled to know about that person’s dishonesty in the workplace.
Stealing by directors or officers of companies
Directors and any other officers of a company commit a specific stealing offence if they steal anything that belongs to the corporation or company which they are associated with. If the thing stolen was the property of a corporation, the prosecution will need to prove incorporation before a person can be convicted of this special case.
Stealing by agents etc
There are certain situations where a person is in possession of property on behalf of another person, such as where they receive property according to a power of attorney. These agents must not steal the property they have received pursuant to their positions, otherwise they will be subject to a special stealing case.
Stealing property valued at more than $5000
Penalties for stealing if the property stolen (including stock animals) is worth more than $5000.
Stealing by tenants or lodgers
Tenants or lodgers are specifically forbidden from stealing fixtures or chattels that have been let to him or her as part of their house or lodging.
Stealing after previous conviction
Previous convictions for similar offences can increase the penalties that a person can receive for a stealing offence.
Stealing of a vehicle
If a person steals a vehicle, they will be exposed to a greater penalty than normal.
Stealing by looting
If a person steals something during a natural disaster, civil unrest or an industrial dispute, they are liable to a greater penalty. This greater penalty also applies to situations where something is stolen that was left unattended by the death or incapacity of the person in lawful possession of the property.
Stealing firearm for use in another indictable offence
It is a serious offence in Queensland to steal a firearm with the intention of committing another serious offence.
Stealing firearm or ammunition
It is also generally a more serious stealing offence if the thing that was stolen was a firearm or ammunition.
What is the Penalty
If a person is convicted of a simple stealing offence, they are liable to imprisonment for 5 years. However the penalty will be increased if there is an aggravating factor or a special case. For example, a person is liable to imprisonment for 14 years if the thing stolen is a Last Will and Testament. Similarly a person is liable to imprisonment for 10 years if the offence is committed during a natural disaster.
In many cases, a conviction may be recorded which can impact a person’s future life.
How we can help you
There are numerous defences available if you choose to plead not guilty to a stealing offence, and we can expertly guide you through all of these. If however you choose to plead guilty, we know how to ensure that you receive the most lenient penalty that is reasonable.